Column: Ain’t It Fun with Cheetah Chrome

Been an interesting summer to say the least…

Bush the Dumber and Dick Cheney’s chickens finally came home to roost in the form of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), Israel and the Palestinians are back at it, yet another Malaysian Airlines jet disappeared from the skies, this time with the help of a missile fired by pro-Russia militants in the Ukraine, and the last original Ramone died.

Funny thing is, none of these came as a shock except Tommy Ramone’s passing. The rest is all business as usual for this miserable planet.

Humans are warlike. It takes next to nothing to set off conflict in a bar, let alone a tinderbox full of religious zealots like the Middle East. The only thing holding Iraq together was Saddam, asshole that he was. Palestine has two frigging governments and two Constitutions (one driven entirely by hate). How in the hell can they make a decision on anything, let alone sort out a delicate situation like the one with Israel? And Israel? For all of the nobility of their cause, and for all of the support the world has shown them, when it comes down to it, the whole thing with Palestine is about land as much as it is self-defense, plain and simple, one that has killed every peace talk since the formation of the Israeli state. Hospitals and schools are being bombed for chrissakes, and John Kerry is over there hemming and hawing and looking French, and both sides are insulting him and laughing at him, and it will go on forever…

Unlike The Ramones. They are almost all gone. But I digress…

Why is it that the bad stuff lasts forever, but a great band that gave the world some great music is gone in less than 40 years? Sure, Marky and CJ and Richie and Elvis are still here, and I am happy that they are: they are great guys and great musicians. And sure, their music will live forever. But that original nucleus – those four parts that made up the original whole – are gone, and for some reason, that freaks me out. The only other band I can think of with all of the original members dead is the Jimi Hendrix Experience, another groundbreaking band, but for some reason that doesn’t freak me out as much as The Ramones.

The Ramones, for me and a lot of people, embodied the entire spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. They easily inspired as many people to start bands as The Velvet Underground, and little kids just loved them. Put on most records and a toddler might look happy, might ask about it, but that’s it. Put on a Ramones song, and that same toddler will immediately be jumping for joy, smiling and laughing, and want to hear it over and over, just feeling the pure love of rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve seen this many times, and it’s a wonderful thing! It’s a well-known fact that kids don’t mince words. If something sucks, they tell you.

I was lucky enough to know The Ramones, and to see firsthand the drive and professionalism that got them, well, not as far as it should have. They should have been huge – like Metallica huge – for the amount of work they put into their deceptively “simple” songs. The first gig we played with them was at the New Yorker Theater in Toronto. We noticed that whenever we walked by their dressing room, there was this tapping sound and someone singing very low. At some point after we played, I had to ask them something and knocked on the door, and when they opened it, all four Ramones were there, with their instruments, no amps, Tommy using a little practice kit. They were running through the set, before they went out and played it for the audience. When I asked Johnny later, he told me they ran through it at least twice before every show!

The Dead Boys had trouble getting in one hour of a four-hour rehearsal with all five members present… That shows you the dedication those four guys had.

I remember all four of the original guys very fondly, as I do all of the later guys as well. All good people. I remember Dee Dee coming up to Stiv at our first CBGB show and tossing Stiv his 007 knife (the same type, I’m told, that Sid Vicious bought in emulation of Dee Dee and, well, you know…) as a token of his appreciation of the band. I remember sitting in Johnny’s apartment with our girlfriends, he and I watching horror flicks, and sharing joints at hotels after our shows. I remember Joey taking us under his wing, lying to Hilly to get us our first gig; sitting up all night listening to records after a night at the Cat Club; getting me to work out an acoustic part for a song (“Come Back Baby”). And I remember Tommy, earnestly convincing us to use Twin Reverbs for the recording of our live album, which he recorded.

I have a lot more memories, too many to share here.

And so the world will go on its nasty, shitty way, people will hate and kill each other, nations will rise and fall, and the whole damned mess will probably blow up in our faces before too long. But listening to a Ramones record can make the whole shitty mess go away for a little while, which they would have been proud of.

So play The Ramones for your children, experience the joy for yourself. Play the Ramones often, for everyone who will listen, and play them for yourselves, just because they were such a great fucking band. Make The Ramones go on forever, just like the bad stuff.

It might just counteract a lot of it.

Photo by Dawn Laureen
Photo by Dawn Laureen

Cheetah Chrome is a founding member of Rocket From The Tombs, The Dead Boys, and The Batusis (with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls), and an acclaimed author. He has lived in Nashville for the past 15 years. He is the Creative Director/A&R Director at Plowboy Records.

Cheetah Chrome Upcoming Shows:

September 11 – Niagara in the East Village across from Tompkins Square
Doors 8:00 pm // Cheetah Chrome solo acoustic set 10:00 pm // THREATS 11:00 pm
FREE show

September 12 – Bowery Electric in the East Village
Doors 6:30 pm // Cheetah Chrome at 10:00 pm playing electric set with band featuring Enzo Penizotto (Blackhearts) on bass, Pete Marshall (Misfits, Iggy Pop) on guitar, Shannon Pollard on drums
Tickets $12 advance or $15 day of show

September 14 – Bowery Electric in the East Village
The Ramones 40th Anniversary featuring performance by Cheetah Chrome on electric guitar
Tickets $20 to benefit cancer charity, Love Hope Strength, more details TBA

October 16 – Three Links in Dallas, TX
with The American Fuse

October 17 – Fitzgeralds in Houston, TX
with The Drunks

October 18 – The Lost Well in Austin, TX
American Icon presents: Cheetah Chrome with The Drunks, Flash Boys, more TBA

October 19 – Hi-Tones in San Antonio, TX
with Sons of Hercules, Flash boys, more TBA

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